In early December, 2014, we received the most wonderful–and unexpected–Christmas present when Mary Kathryn McIntosh delivered this antique, framed “memorial print” to our office. Mary Kathryn works for Estates & Consignments of Lynchburg as an appraiser and assistant. She found the print in a local estate being sold through E&C. When she discovered this unusual mourning item, she immediately thought of us and asked E&C co-owner Troy Deacon to donate it to the Cemetery. He agreed, and we were very excited to add it to our collection. Although its overall design was familiar to us, no one knew anything about this particular print or the mysterious “Madison Lewis” it honored.
This type of framed memorial artwork was very popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They consisted of a black-and-white or black-and-gold lithographed design, depicting angels, doves, hourglasses, roses, and other Victorian mourning motifs. The generic designs were personalized by undertakers or family members in designated boxes or cut-outs. Sometimes these custom “inserts” were handwritten, other times they were pre-printed.
Typically one box contained biographical data about the deceased, and a second one displayed favorite verses of sentimental poetry or a passage from the Bible. The Madison Lewis print is unusual in that a photograph of the deceased has been pasted directly on the print. Having an African American subject makes it especially valuable.
Who Was Madison Lewis?
After several weeks of archival research, a more complete portrait of Lewis began to emerge. Madison “Matt” Lewis was born c.1858 in Virginia and died in Lynchburg on January 29, 1918. His cause of death was “chronic parenchymatous nephritis” (kidney disease). Not only did Lewis live in Lynchburg, but he was also buried in our Cemetery! Our superintendent’s ledger book shows he was interred on February 11, 1918. Unfortunately no location was given, and there is no grave marker on the grounds today bearing his name.
Lewis was the “sexton” or custodian of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Clay Street for 35 years. He and his wife Mary had four children. Incidentally, the only other known Lewis family member buried in our Cemetery is Madison’s grandson Richard Lewis Bates, who died as a 2-year-old infant in 1925. Another of his grandsons, Alphonso Bates (1900-1980), was a waiter at Oakwood Country Club in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Beginning in about 1885, the Lewises lived at 1213 Fifth Street, between Taylor and Wise Streets and less than two blocks from the Cemetery’s entrance gates. The house has been demolished, but you’ve probably driven by the spot many times. Madison Lewis’s grandson Alphonso Bates lived in the same house until about 1980.
Lewis’s funeral notice in the Lynchburg News noted “His many friends, white and colored, mourn the loss of one who strove earnestly to be true to every trust. He was a devoted husband, a kind father, a good neighbor and an upright citizen.”
If you are a relative or descendant of Madison Lewis, or if you know anything more about him, please contact us. We want to know more about the Lewis family!
We are now proudly displaying this special piece of local history in the Cemetery Center Mourning Museum. Please visit anytime Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
—Ted Delaney, Executive Director